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Hidden crisis in US-Afghan relations continues

Afghanistan.ru - 16.4.2007
Dmitry Verkhoturov (Photo: afghanistan.ru)

Hidden crisis in US-Afghan relations continuesBy Dmitry Verkhoturov, Russian political scientist.

Over six months have passed since relations between the Afghan government and the United State have turned from cooperation to confrontation, which was provoked by the US special services when they gathered damaging information against Ahmed Vali Karzai, the Afghan President’s brother. More details about this incident contain in an article, literally “Hamid Karzai offends Americans”.

The article has had far-reaching repercussion. It was published in Russian and Farsi by several news agencies and editions, and later Afghan press published it in Afghanistan and in the West. An article written on the basis of information gathered from these publications was printed in the Kabul-based Afghanistan-i-Javan journal (No.59, November 11) and several other newspapers and stirred up a heated discussion about the country’s security and foreign policy at Afghan parliament. Several deputies from various parties condemned US policy and described it as policy directed against the country’s sovereignty and leader, and this was quite important and symbolic ahead of the meeting of the League of Arab States scheduled to March 27 where Afghanistan plans to raise the issue.

All executive and legislative bodies have persistently focused on the state of affairs of Afghan-US relations since the end of 2006. In these circumstances when nothing left in confidence and cooperation that had existed earlier, there was a need for working out new policy towards Americans.

This is no easy job, the acuteness of which has not only remained but has also increased in view of the possible US invasion of Iran. Currently, the task of Afghanistan is not only to guarantee its sovereignty to a maximum possible level in the presence of NATO forces but also prevent the country from involving in a war against Iran along side the United States. Henceforth, the working out a policy towards Americans will remain an acute task for a very long time.

According to observers, the largest change in Afghan-US relation in the past year, especially by the end of 2006 was that Afghanistan had finally remained to be an object of US policy. Before this there was a certain international, to the point an American plan of policy in Afghanistan, and the provisional government was the body that partially realized it but was deprived of the possibility of making amendments to it or expressing its own standpoint. After the election of parliament and the President and the expiry of the Bonn agreement of 2002 conditions have created in principle a new situation when Afghanistan is a full-fledged participant in relations and expresses its own point of view.

The transition period was over one year and it started after a statement by President Hamid Karzai in September 2005 that there were no rational reasons for the further presence of US forces in Afghanistan. It completed late 2006 – early 2007 with a debate in parliament with the condemnation of US policy openly and suggestion by Afghanistan on a new strategy early this year.

There is a need for explaining an important aspect. Afghanistan could be a weak political player in the region and a country that does not enjoy high respect on the international scene and has no serious financial, military or political resources. However, one of the main signs of genuine sovereignty of Afghanistan is that the country formulates independently its policy, its standpoint towards the situation in the region and is capable of proposing its strategy to its partners.

An Afghan delegation headed by Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta proposed to Brussels early this year new strategy for NATO in Afghanistan that provides for making emphasis on Afghan law enforcement agencies, especially police in stabilizing the situation in the country. This was stated by an Afghan Foreign Ministry official Sultan Ahmad Bahin before the visit. First and foremost Germany, which is inclined towards a peace settlement in Afghanistan, supports the strategy.

Western press has never mentioned about this, of course. The European press has persistently insisted on the NATO strategy. However, NATO summit in Riga opened on February 14 showed that there was no common strategy for the alliance. There was a heated debate between the supporters for the use of force, the United States and Britain and peace settlement with the exchange of accusations and criticizing each other. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer had made attempts to iron out the differences but ultimately, he supported Germany’s position.

The winning of NATO’s peaceful strategy over US policy of the use of force means Afghanistan achieved a great foreign policy victory. This shows that Afghanistan could achieve its goals and influence even on a large alliance if it formulates its position precisely and does not give in to propaganda campaign that the country is an unsuccessful state.

The reevaluation of Afghanistan’s political role has led to serious changes in its relations with the United States. Now it is possible to say that Afghanistan agrees with Americans only concerning relations with Pakistan. Almost all events linked with cooperation between Afghanistan and the United States have been one way or the other linked with Pakistan. Among these are the opening of an Afghan-US-Pakistani surveillance centre in January and support for a statement by CIA director John Negroponte.

On the other hand relations in other areas have been quite different. Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta said officially in London that his country had received only 5% of the promised international aid and accused the United States and other donors of plundering 75% of international aid to Afghanistan. In fact, it was impossible to make such an accusation a year ago.

US aid to Afghanistan has long been under criticism and several articles have been devoted to the issue. Experts started to describe it openly as a myth. Currently, it has become an official policy of Afghanistan to criticize aid given to the country on the international scene. Earlier, Americans could ignore this but now they have to take into account as a factor in international politics. It would have been quite good if the Afghan government published a report about the real state of international aid by indicating the sum of money it had received and where it had been spent. Such a report could put an end to misappropriating aid given for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

NATO forces start a new operation in the south-east provinces of Afghanistan. Reports from Kabul say about launching attacks and deaths of civilians. Undoubtedly, the Afghan government will shortly criticize the United States once again.

The Afghan government expresses vision of its place in new policy by stepping up its relations with Russia, of course. The two sides have made great progress in this area by settling Afghan debt to Russia, setting up a Russian-Afghan business council with the assistance of Russia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry and getting Russian technical assistance for the reconstruction of the Nagly hydropower station. Notably, a sharp improvement in bilateral relations has been marked since the Afghan government became more independent.

At the same time a short review of Afghan foreign policy shows that relations between Afghanistan and the United States have suffered changes. Firstly, there is no confidence and cooperation that existed when Zalmay Khalilzad was the US ambassador to Kabul. Currently, the two sides are being guided exclusively by pragmatic interests. Since relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are strained and have not resolved them yet, cooperation with the United States in the Pakistani issue may prove to be advantageous.

Secondly, Kabul has definitely stopped listening to recommendations by Washington and promotes relations with the countries and blocks, which it desires and consequently, considers necessary. This is confirmed by its readiness to cooperate with the Collective Security Treaty organization and Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Thirdly, Afghanistan starts pursuing an independent policy on the international scene although sometimes its moves contradict the US interests. Several moves like the criticism of policy of rendering aid pose a potential danger for American foreign policy. When it becomes aware that Americans are first and foremost aimed at cutting off promised aid it will cause a huge damage to the country’s reputation and undermines the grounds for presence of US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

All this shows that the status of the Afghan government has radically changed, of course. This does not mean that the number of issues has reduced but pins high hopes for solving them.


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